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Komsomolskaya metro station, Moscow: most Russian business students travel overseas to study for an MBA © Alamy
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Russia finally ratified its entry into the World Trade Organisation this week after 18 years of negotiations. But while economists consider Russia a fast-growing Bric nation, the challenge facing its business schools is how to bring Russian managers and executives up to speed.

At the beginning of the year, the Russian government withdrew its certification of MBA programmes. The transfer of responsibility for accreditation to non-governmental bodies is viewed as a necessary step towards raising the quality of programmes. But some schools fear uncertainty in the short run, while accreditation experts warn of structural issues that must be addressed.

“Our government has supported the development of MBAs during the period of transition from socialism, but we are now in a new reality,” says Valery Katkalo, dean of the Graduate School of Management (GSOM), St Petersburg University. “Prospective students look at the international standing and brand of Russian business schools, whether they are part of a
global accreditation system or have partnerships with top international schools.”

Business schools grew in popularity and influence in the country as the need for a new understanding of management emerged with the fall of communism. There are about 150 business schools offering MBAs in Russia, but only nine are accredited by the Association of MBAs and none by accreditation bodies AACSB or Equis.

Most MBAs are taught in Russian and tend towards the theoretical. The best-known programmes in Moscow include those offered by Skolkovo School of Management, the Moscow International Higher Business School and the Institute of Business Studies (IBS), while GSOM offers an executive MBA in St Petersburg. Several western business schools, including Vlerick Leuven Gent, Stockholm School of Economics, Grenoble Graduate School of Business and Duke’s Fuqua School of Business have campuses in Moscow and St Petersburg, often with local partners and government support.

Yet the majority of Russian students seeking an MBA look abroad. According to the Graduate Management Admission Council, last year Russians sat 1,980 graduate management admission tests, a 56 per cent rise over five years. But most candidates sent their scores to US schools last year (49 per cent) or schools in the UK and France. Only 2 per cent sent scores to Russian schools.

Handing over domestic accreditation is an important step says Andrey Barkin, head of the education development centre at Skolkovo. “In business education, the beneficiaries are businesses and individuals pursuing personal benefits, so the government should not be telling the market what and how to teach.”

The consortium created to take over the development of MBA standards includes the Russian Association of Business Education (Rabe), the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the Russian Federation, the small and mid-sized business association Delovaya Rossiya and the Association of Russian Banks.

“This should result in stronger transparency, better governance and better value for the students,” says Mr Barkin.

However, the timeframe for implementation of standards is uncertain admits Sergey Myasoedov, president of Rabe and dean of IBS-Moscow.

“We can expect that suspension of the state MBA standards will bring some doubt among recruiters from state-owned companies and government organisations. However I believe that the market will come back to stability in a year.”

Peter Rafferty, director of international business at Vlerick, hopes the changes will encourage, not deter competition. “My view is that government withdrawal and handing over to industry can only be a good thing – so long as it is controlled and equitable. My fear is protectionism to ensure existing schools are saved from foreign competition.”

John Fernandes, chief executive of the AACSB, says the Russian government needs to be active in supporting the transition. “When the Chinese government was doing something similar, it sent 15 people to us in Florida to spend several days copying our accreditation system with a view to creating their own. The Russian government needs to resource a group like Rabe to do the same.”

He senses timidity among business schools in Moscow. “In Russia, the head of government is only an eyelash away from the business school dean, so whoever goes for AACSB accreditation needs to be successful,” he says.

But Prof Myasoedov says that Russia has come a long way in a short space of time. “Just 25 years ago, we had no business education. Even Moses had to wait 40 years to see the promised land.”

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